A North Texas Sheriff dispelled any notions that “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch was coddled or living any kind of charmed life behind bars less than a week after authorities quietly moved the 18-year-old from a Fort Worth juvenile detention facility to an adult jail.
Tarrant County officials transferred Couch to the three-year-old Lon Evans Corrections Center on Feb. 5 after juvenile court Judge Timothy Menikos issued a “revised order of detention.” The judge had previously ordering Couch to juvenile detention. At the time, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson likened the transfer to Couch having a “different landlord” because the teen’s case still remained under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system.
WFAA 8 (ABC) toured the Fort Worth facility that houses Couch, escorted by Sheriff Anderson, providing a glimpse into the teen’s life. Last week, Anderson anticipated Couch’s life in the adult jail would be “routine” and “regimented.” The sheriff described the type of confinement that Couch likely calls home a “separation cell.” This one-occupant room had stark white cinderblock walls made of steel and concrete, complete with a steel sink and toilet combo unit. One short wall separated the open shower from the rest of the cell. A built-in concrete bed holds a mat for sleeping. Anderson said that a prisoner’s meals are passed through a “bean chute,” the slang term for the horizontal opening in the thick steel door that locks shut from the outside.
Prisoners have no privacy. The door has a window that only jailers can open or shut from the outside. A small window at the back of the cell remains open and cannot be closed. Some inmates live in even smaller cells without showers, said Anderson. He described this kind of isolation cell as giving “us the ability, if we need to, to leave a person in here 24 hours a day. We don’t have to move them at all.”
The sheriff said this method of incarceration was safest for jailers and prisoners but most inmates perceive the maximum security jail as a punishment. Inmates never interact but can communicate with visitors via computer screens, through the “bean chute.” The visitors sit behind computers in booths located in the prison’s lobby.
Said Anderson: “There is no TV watching in this facility.” However, there is one exception. The incarcerated can watch exercise videos and work out in their cells. The choices – Richard Simmons or old black and white Jack LaLanne TV fitness show episodes – are viewed through the same food portal. Prisoners can also exercise in a small, bare yellow walled workout room that contains nothing but a few windows.
Inmates can purchase ice cream from the jail’s commissary cart but it is considered a privilege that can be taken away. This is used as a method to help control behavior, according to the Dallas ABC-TV affiliate, which also reported that Anderson appeared on a national talk show, calling Couch a model prisoner.
Last week, Anderson emphasized Couch’s move to the adult correctional facility was done for the teen’s safety. He cited concerns that someone else confined in the jail system with access to Couch might try to hurt this “high profile” inmate. At that time, the sheriff said “steps will be taken to protect him.”
Couch may remain in the adult jail until his upcoming transfer hearing on Feb. 19 which will determine if the case stays in the juvenile court or moves up into the adult system. Couch is serving a 10 year juvenile probation sentence for the 2013 drunk driving wreck that killed four people and injured others. Breitbart Texas reported Couch, 16-years-old at the time, was found to have a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult. Traces of Valium also were found in his system.
A lenient juvenile judge tried him on an “affluenza” defense that blamed his reckless behavior on an inability to distinguish right from wrong because of over-indulgent parents who coddled him with an affluent upbringing. Instead of jail time, he received rehab, counseling, and this probation sentence. He may have violated his probation when he disappeared late last year after an online party video surfaced that appeared to serve alcohol and showed someone who resembled Couch. Authorities believe his mother, Tonya, 48, helped him flee to Mexico where authorities detained the pair.
The prosecution, Tarrant County officials, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have fought to make Couch’s stay in the adult jail more permanent. Breitbart Texas reported if the case moves to the adult court system, Couch could face much stiffer penalties for probation violations while serving out the the remainder of his probation sentence.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.